Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama will vote next month on whether to unionize — the largest and most viable organizing effort yet involving the technology giant. In the late summer of 2020, a group of employees from the Bessemer fulfillment center contacted an organizer in the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, explaining that they were fed up with the way the retailer aggressively tracked productivity and asking to discuss unionization. The campaign has gained momentum since then, and by December 2020 over 2,000 employees had signed cards indicating that they were in favor of an election.
The National Labor Relations Board determined that there was sufficient interest in a union election among the warehouse’s total worker base of 5,800 employees, and announced that mail-in voting would start in February and run for seven weeks. This marks the first union election at Amazon since a small group of technical workers at a warehouse in Delaware voted against unionizing in 2014. If formed, the “BAmazon Union” would become the first US union in the company’s history, and potentially a milestone for the modern labor movement.
Amazon has taken a tough anti-union stance, reportedly engaging Pinkerton detectives and monitoring private and public social media to root out organizing efforts. In a statement for the New York Times, Heather Knox, an Amazon spokeswoman, said that the company did not believe that the union “represents the majority of our employees’ views.” She added, “Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”
The pandemic has not only shined a light on Amazon and its “essential” workforce, but also shifted the way many people feel about their employers. Unions have been a topic of increased interest and seem to be forming in unlikely places. In January, more than 400 engineers and other workers at Google formed a union, which was seen as a rare move in a mostly anti-union industry. Now all eyes will be on Alabama, as the upcoming vote will create long lasting effects for the future of the tech industry.